Rickie Lee Jones at Vicar Street, Dublin, 25 February 2018
For those who are unfamiliar, Rickie Lee Jones emerged in the late ’70s in California after the hum of the summer of love had begun to fade. Her single Chuck E’s in Love, off her self-titled debut album reached number four on the Billboard U.S. Hot 100 list in 1979. Her relationship with Tom Waits was also a vehicle for generating interest in her work.
In contrast to the dense instrumentation found on her studio albums, Sunday’s performance was lighter but no less full. Her incredible percussionist Mike Dillon, began with a beautiful composition on the vibraphone – a melodic, percussive instrument, somewhat like a sophisticated, quivering xylophone. Cliff Hines supported him on electric guitar. There was a certain cinematic quality that brought the work of composers such as Ennio Morricone and John Williams to mind.
Aesthetically speaking, there seemed to be no contrived effort to create an image. Raggle taggle suits, dishevelled hair and Rickie’s all black ensemble all nodded to a group unconcerned with image and focussed on process and expression, in an organic way. Not like the conceited copycats choreographed by marketing gurus hell bent on compartmentalising their listeners. In a podcast for Billboard in 2016 Jones said ‘‘What’s interesting about me is who I am, not how I look.’’
Back to the music. In so many ways Rickie Lee Jones resembles Joni Mitchell. She sings a little, speaks a little, whatever the story requires. There’s an eternal youthfulness in her voice that is unique. Her performance was derailed, often. She very obviously struggles with self-doubt. She speaks of a previous trip to Ireland, when a tweed drenched man challenged her to sing a song, under his glaring eye, oblivious to her success and concluded she was alright but could improve her projection. She described us as an intimidating “country of singers”.
“Probably I shouldn’t have dropped that acid before I came out,” Jones laughed after abandoning a guitar song for the safety of a vocal performance. It was cool to see her dip so publicly like that and then regain her confidence. She really healed her performance with It Must Be Love. Her piano set was mature and controlled. She played chicken with the audience at the end of each song, lots of uncoordinated hands fumbling over their applause.
After the encore, Jones signed off with Infinity. As she sang about the stars, the constellations glistened in the light reflecting off the bright edges of the kit, the pedals and the microphone. An ethereal blanket fell upon the audience as the bittersweet melody lay waste to a tender night spent inside the mind and life of The Duchess of Coolsville.